06/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

World Cup Nerves Rattle as Racial Tensions Boil in South Africa


There must be some nervous folks at FIFA's headquarters today. Events in South Africa took a nasty turn for the worse over the weekend when the right wing extremist Eugene Terre'Blanche was bludgeoned to death with machete while sleeping at his farm. Terre'Blanche was the leader of the white supremacist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) movement, a Boer group that threatened civil war when apartheid's chains were unraveling in the 1990's. His death came in the wake of a court ruling banning the singing of a liberation song sung by supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) with lyrics inciting "kill the Boer." Recently, some ANC youth leaders have been stoking the flames of anger against South Africa's white minority. Boers claim that 3000 white farmers have been murdered since apartheid ended. Mandela's dream of reconciliation and peace may be about to go up in smoke.

And in two months, the World Cup is set to arrive, the globe's biggest fanfare.

The international terrorist threat, while prescient, always seems remote at the World Cup as even the Taliban will be taking a break to listen to games on their radios. North Korea is unlikely to swarm across the DMZ as their team is playing in South Africa. Trouble usually breaks out after the World Cup, not during it, no one wants to know, the world wants nothing but football for a month.

But South Africa has internal and neighbor problems that could see a violent display from any number of angry groups. In January, the African Nations Cup witnessed one of the participating teams being ambushed by murderous guerrillas in Angola; in South Africa, the poor have been moved to District 9-like camps to make way for FIFA's golden juggernaut and there is talk of protests. And today, the AWB have promised revenge and warned countries not to send their nations to the Finals as South Africa is a "country of murderers."

You can hear the loud gulps at FIFA's headquarters.

Alan Black is the co-author of The Glorious World Cup, published on May 4.